Dear Mrs. Liechty:
I’m in the final weeks of my first year as a teacher. You taught me in fourth and seventh grade in Winterset. You lit the spark in me to be a writer, which is what I was for 27 years.
You encouraged me, along with Chris Madison, my first journalism teacher, to go into teaching. I thought it was a terrible idea, but I also thought your idea of “write, write, write” and “revise, revise, revise” was nuts.
Who knew I’d make a career out of it?
Anyway, I’m close to the end of my first year of teaching and I’ve got something to say to you: I’m sorry.
Holy snot, I had no idea how hard children can be to work with – especially middle school-aged kids. You had me in seventh grade. I’m pretty sure I was a pain in the butt.
I don’t remember much about those years, except I always wanted to be doing something else other than what we were doing at that moment.
They tell young parents “You get what you gave.” The idea is if you were a troublesome kid, your newborn was likely to be a real corker.
I remember wanting to be the funniest kid in school.
I now know exactly how much fun having a would-be comedian is when you’re trying to teach a lesson.
I’m sure I was a jerk to you.
If it’s any consolation, you were right about everything. I did, in fact, have a talent for writing. I made a living at it. I didn’t go as far with it as I wanted to, but, still, you were right.
So, for every time I whined about having to rewrite a paper to fix punctuation, grammar, and spelling, I’m sorry.
You were right. I was wrong.
I hope I was not like some of today’s students.
I knew sixth graders would be fidgety. I knew it would be hard to hold their attention, especially in a world designed for distraction.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the bold, in-my-face lying and the resolute refusal to do anything.
This isn’t all my students, of course, It isn’t even most of them.
But this describes way too many of them.
Those students will lie to your face and when called on it, won’t show a hint of remorse.
I once caught a student in a lie. I told the student things would be easier if they were honest with me.
The student said, “Why, so you can say ‘no?’”
I said I would say “no” to things that don’t have to do with school, in particular my class.
The student said they would just lie.
I said, “So you’re choosing to be a liar?”
The student forcefully corrected me. They were choosing to be a liar as a child.
When the student got a job interview in the future, nobody was going to care that they lied to her middle school English teacher.
I wish I had been quick enough on my feet to say that lying is a habit harder to break than most drug addictions.
But I wasn’t. Instead, I was flabbergasted by the boldness and a little frightened by the sociopathic overtones.
Maybe the student will grow out of it. I don’t know.
All I know is that I’m sorry I was a jerk to you all those years ago. I’m getting what I gave.
The only thing I can do is hope I help some of my students the way you helped me nearly 40 years ago.
With love and hope,
Daniel P. Finney
Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney is a Marion County Express columnist.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Your stories are as pleasing as ever! I’m so glad to read them.
I liked this very much. It’s also nice to get a glimpse into your journey as a teacher. 😀
I love this.